Tiffany Stained Glass in Topeka Church Catches Eye of Statewide Art Contest

By: Lindsay Shively
By: Lindsay Shively

Judging from the view on Harrison Street, you'd never guess that the plain-looking windows of the First Presbyterian Church would reveal such breath-taking beauty inside the sanctuary.

"It's amazing to sit and watch the sun come around," muses docent Carolyn Carlson. "It's like a panorama. they do change."

The windows came to grace the walls of the church in 1911 when member Josephine Thomas wanted to use them as a memorial to her late husband. So Thomas commissioned Lewis Comfort Tiffany, a renowned artist of the same namesake as that renowned jewelry store, and he created these unique ten stained glass windows.

"It's very different than traditional stained glass. Tiffany manufactured a technique that he put the oxides and minerals inside the glass and called it favoral glass, which just means hand made," adds Carlson.

Tiffany earned $14,000.00 for the job in 1911. But after death through his will, Tiffany ordered his techniques to be destroyed. "So even with computers, they cannot be duplicated, making them unique," Carlson says.

Those windows aren't just unique but also priceless. Each window tells a story from the bible. The largest is the Ascension window at the back of the sanctuary, reaching eighteen feet tall. It's the second tallest in the nation.

"It's Christ ascending to heaven, and you can see how Tiffany was able to capture every bit of light through Christ's face. How he is able to do that with the angels and the people of jerusalem...It's a very spiritual thing for me. It's almost mystical, like in the Nicademus picture, how that lantern always throws light out, no matter how dark it is outside."

That jeweller's touch is evident in another pair of windows near the back of the sanctuary. The windows are more the style of a typical church stained glass window. "So if you look close, you can see he's faceted the glass in a very special way that makes them catch the light like gems," Carlson adds.

These windows serve as not only priceless works of art, but a reminder of their faith. That makes them irreplaceable.

If you're surprised you've never heard of them, you're not alone.
"Of all the tours we've had, a lot of times, we'll get people from topeka saying they had no idea they were here," admits Carlson.

Perhaps that's why these windows are truly hidden gems.


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